In the vacuum of unified central power left after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Islamic expansionism reached Europe in 711 and was not ultimately turned back till 1492. Indeed Europe was under constant threat from Islam for over three hundred years before Pope Urban II called the First Crusade. The historic Battle of Poitiers was a critical contest that would decide the very fate of Europe, where the Islamic expansionism was ultimately stopped and turned back. It was in contemporary accounts of this battle that the first reference to the term ‘Europeans’ is found. We also learn about Charles the Great--Charlemagne—and his critical role in uniting Europe, as well as the history of his grandfather Charles Martel—Charles the Hammer—who was also a critical figure in stemming the aggressive Muslim tide in Europe.
NYU Professor Lewis expels many preconceptions of the history of Islam, especially with its chapter of European control. I enjoyed this book a great deal, and found it easy for the lay person to read. It is rich in maps, and a timeline for helpful reference. I think with the current cultural debate of ‘what is Islam, and how does it fit in today’s world culture?’ that it is important for people of inform themselves, and understand the critical historical points of reference on this charged subject. I found God’s Crucible to be written from a neutral perspective, encouraging informed discussion on my part when I find myself in a conversation about this subject. I especially found the story of Mohammed compelling reading, and how the two branches of Islam split—the Sunni and the Shia—and how much that division has impacted world events today. You also learn interesting tidbits, such as the origin of the word Saracen, the medieval term Europeans used for Muslims: saraceni is Latin for ‘people of the tents.’